Wednesday, August 19, 2009

CTR Words

Over the past weeks I've been struggling to find the time, energy, and the creative juices to write something about my experience on the Colorado Trail. I'm beginning to realize why folks don't write much about big events such as these, because it's so difficult to put such an immense experience into words on paper. Days spent in the sun, evenings spent in the rain, nights spent in the cold on unfamiliar ground, and mornings spent in the cold pre-dawn glow all while plodding slowly (at times very slowly) towards a goal that seems so far away. Sure, I've spent a lot of time out of doors in my life pursuing different outdoor and athletic pursuits, however the world of multi-day mountain bike "racing" was and still is very new to me. So, my largest goal for the event was pour the ego out of my cup and fill it with experiences and knowledge for events such as this. I was at the start line with roughly 6 weeks of prep time, good fitness, and open eyes. What I experienced over the next week is near impossible to convey on paper or even pictures, and anyone who was out there knows this. However, here's some words on paper.

The story starts in June when a good friend and my brother convinced me to suck it up and try CTR this season. I wasn't getting the experiences I craved from the races I did this spring (not much adventure or commitment needed for a XC race) so I was in search of some good old fashioned adventuring. Fast forward 6 weeks and I'm suddenly at Waterton Canyon trailhead with packed bags and a giddy mood. I say hi to the folks I know, admire Dave Nice and his plentiful booze supply for the journey ahead, eat some more poptarts, drink some more coffee, and before I knew it, we were riding. Chatter on the roll out was plentiful and I was full of anticipation to put some miles under the tires. The first few sections flew by and I was settling into a groove. I stopped in Bailey for some liquids, and some ice cream before heading out on the highway. Twice on the highway I saw ambulances rushing up the road and twice I feared it was for a racer, but turns out everyone made it to Kenosha Pass just fine. Just after the pass I came upon Scott, Jason, and Ethan, we all waited out a brief rain storm below Georgia Pass before continuing on. Once over Georgia I knew the trail and made quick time to Gold Hill where I stopped to make some dinner. After dark, Scott and I made our way partly up 10 mile before stopping for the night. I was still full of adrenaline so sleep was.....so-so.

Day two started with much anticipation and we were moving a shade before 4:30. Being above tree line for sunrise is an incredible experience even if I was pushing my bike. The pictures I took up on 10 mile don't do it justice, and the mental stoke batteries were fully recharged by about 6am - sign of a good day to come. Copper for breakfast and then Searl and Kokomo Pass for lunch. Between the two passes we came upon Dave who was just chipper as can be (ok so he was chipper but the altitude was giving him a rough go of things). Bombing down to Camp Hale through fields of wildflowers was a highlight of the trip and doing it with Dave and Scott (two guys who have been to the rodeo a few times) was even better. Once back below 10K or so, Dave's engine starts to fire on more than one cylinder so he was off like a shot. Scott and I rolled into Leadville and found the first burrito stand in town. Dave's Spot showed him at a uber-shady hotel, but turns out he cashed in at the super ocho, so we scooted outta town. Darkness found Scott and I around Twin Lakes under a full moon. The trail was fast and my mental cloud had cleared so I was having a great time floating along along the lake under a full moon and basically thinking to myself "This is why I ride bikes".

Just as I opened my eyeballs the next morning, Dave rode past (he had left the hotel at 2 am) we all exchanged a few words, I made a comment as I slowly stood up - "Is this what it feels like to be old?". Well, a word to the wise, don't mention old man in the presence of Dave - he may take it personally - HA. As I saddled up, I noticed that I felt better than the day before - good stuff. Later that morning we made it to Buena Vista and Scott and I once again headed to the burrito shop, but this time I packed an extra one in my bag. Then off to City Market where we found Dave hunkered down on a picnic table surrounded by food. A full box of Chex anyone? I filled every nook and cranny with food and crossed my fingers that it would last until Silverton. In hindsight, I should of counted more carefully, but hey, I'm not sure I could of fit much more in anyway. Later in the afternoon just after Princeton, my bike suddenly groaned and then I was pedaling air. What the? A closer look revealed a shattered granny gear. Crap! So, I pushed up the huge hike-a-bike with Scott and rode to the first jeep road that headed down towards Salida, we parted ways, and I bombed nearly 20 miles and 2000 feet into Salida hoping to get there before the shop closed. All of a sudden riding alone for really the first time in 3 days was a bit odd. Scott and I had a nice rhythm going and being solo so abruptly was a bit strange. I made quick time in town and was back to where I left the trail just a few min after dark. At this point my mind clicked back on and I pounded out the miles until 2 am. I stopped not because I was tired, but because I knew I needed to get sleep for the days to come. In fact, my mind was racing and it took me awhile to fall asleep....maybe I should of ridden all night?

Day 4 started out well and by this point my rear had hardened and the legs had pushed out some fatigue. I could fall into a rhythm easily and just let the hours slip by. Fooses creek, Marshal Pass, and Monarch Crest all gone in a haze. At some point at the start of Sargents Mesa, I ran in to Chuck from Nederland as he was patching a tire. I stopped to chat and before I knew it were were riding together and riding well. High alpine meadows were passing under our tread and I was lovin' life. Then around dark, the wind picked up and it began to rain. First, straight rain, then diagonal rain, then completely sideways rain. We quickly put on our shells and then began to bomb through the meadows in search of some thicker trees to take shelter in. Ever fly on narrow single track in a meadow at 11K, in complete darkness, in cold sideways rain? Well, it's kinda fun actually. We found some trees and to the best of Chucks knowledge, the next section was super slow so we decided to hunker down early, eat some food and try to stay dry.....it kinda worked....Kinda.

The next morning we pounded out the next bit of trail, which turned out to not be bad at all, and as we noticed, it didn't hardly rain another few miles up the trail....figures. We finished of another section before starting the La Garita Wilderness detour. It started fast, but soon we found ourselves battling a severe headwind. "We" by the way, was a trio at this point as we joined up with Brian from Boulder earlier that day. The road went fast but the riding was tiring. As we neared the end of the detour the wind really picked up and it even started to rain a bit. Earlier in the day I had started to take serious note of my food supply, I knew sections 22&23 were going to be agonizingly slow but I was starting to have serous doubts about what I had. At the end of the detour we started towards Spring Creek Pass, and to make a long story short I stopped and laid out my food and options. Roughly 900 calories was all I had and that was for dinner and all of sections 22 & 23 and into Silverton. I had already been skimping and that was less that I could have easily eaten for dinner. Chuck was in a similar situation so we decided to do the smart thing and bail to Lake City. Sure we could have maybe hunted a Marmot or something, but starting those sections just was not a smart move. We gave Brian some of the food we had since he was continuing on and started riding down into Silverton in the dark. It was a very difficult choice to make since I have never not finished a race I've started in 10 years of racing bikes in some capacity. However, it was the smart move and in my head I'm happy knowing that I was capable of making the smart call instead of being stubborn about it.

Once in town we found the only open restaurant and just as we walked in they said the kitchen was closed...figures. So we ate the cold pizza they had on display and whatever else was in my eyesight while standing at the counter and that they would sell me. Chuck and I then attempted to find a hotel for the night, but they were all booked up by Texans, so we did the only logical thing, went to the bar, had some PBR, and then rolled out of town and camped in some bushes next to the river. It rained on us again...

The next day we ate breakfast and found a local who was willing to give us a ride up to the top of Cinnamon Pass, actually he found us but that's a different story. So we jumped in his janky truck and he 4 wheeled us to the top. It was a bit sketchy at times, but we got to the top in one piece. Chuck and I then rode down into Silverton stopping at several old mining sights to do the tourist thing. Once there, I ate lunch with Chuck and his family before we split paths. I loaded up on food and starting riding up to Molas Pass. Once there I stopped early and enjoyed a nice sunset and a big camp dinner. I had found a sweet camp spot with a nice view of a lake (check out the end of my slideshow) and it was made even better when around dusk somewhere back in the woods someone began picking away at a banjo.....perfect.

I woke before sunrise and frozen. Sleeping in a wet bag for the 3rd night in a row was a tad uncomfortable but the last night I was around 12K so it got darn cold. So cold in fact that my water bottles had frozen. I wasn't horribly cold but cold enough to not sleep. So, I got up, started some coffee and munched on some frozen bars for breakfast. The rest of the day I made my way down into Durango. I even ran into a friend at a gas station, which I was not expecting but it did pick me up a bit. Once in town I crashed in a park, let my ride know where I was, and passed out for a few hours until she found me sleeping in a sunny patch of grass.

So in the end, I'm content knowing that I made the wise call and that physically I could of easily continued on. Also, keeping it together mentally after breaking my chainring was a little victory in my mind. I learned alot, saw some amazing things and got to ride my bike through the mountains for a week. So can I really complain?

Congrats to everyone who finished!!

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

What an awesome adventure!

ojulius said...

All the adventures you've done are amazing. I'm not at all surprised you gave this a whirl. Heck, I'm surprised you hadn't tried this sooner. Sorry Matt and I missed you when you were in Durango!! Hope to see you again soon at another event. :)

Cellarrat said...

Nice Post!

Always so far to put into words what you see in your minds eye on a trip like that

Paul said...

Awesome write up Andrew!

Angie Koppa said...

wow! awesome!!

Anonymous said...

Sweet. I've been waiting for the rundown. Too bad I missed you in Durango! I think I was camping on el Rio Animas.
Enjoy CO... I'm heading back to Iowa in a few.
-Abby

Squirrel said...

sounds epic by all means. See you this weekend!